This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, and it’s no news to parents that Covid-19 has been a really tough time for teens and younger kids. Keeping your teen learning through lockdown while keeping their mood healthy is a challenge for all families right now, and to give us some tips to mark this week we asked Psychologist and Children’s Wellbeing Provider Alicia Eaton to share her advice on looking after your kids’ mental health. Here’s what she had to say!
Looking after your teen’s mental wellbeing during lockdown has become a challenge for many parents, and it can be hard to know what to do for the best. We’re all being pushed to the limits of our emotional reserves right now as we adjust to a different way of living, with no idea of when or how this will all end.
Feelings of worry and anxiety can continue to build up in the body. It can even go undiscovered until it’s time to go back to school and return to that normal way of life. It might not always be easy to spot if your teen’s starting to feel the strain, but keep an eye out for an increase in the following.
6 tell-tale signs that your teen is struggling with anxiety
- Angry outbursts and sibling fights
- Tearful episodes
- Inability to concentrate or follow instructions
- Cravings for sweet foods and snacks
- Nail-biting, hair-pulling or bedwetting
- Nightmares and difficulty in falling asleep
As a parent, it’s natural to feel you should step in to fix every problem, but trying to come up with an immediate solution could see you fall into the trap of ‘fire-fighting’ – and that’s exhausting!
A better approach is to think about creating the right kind of supportive home environment that will reduce overall anxiety levels, as this often helps the individual problems sort themselves out.
1. Make a home timetable
School children are naturally creatures of habit, and they’re used to having their life timetabled for each day of the week. Without this structure around them, they can start to flounder and feel lost. As much as teenagers might like to think they crave new experiences and adventure, most of them thrive much better with familiarity and routine.
Creating a ‘home timetable’ with routines that will lower stress levels is a good way to stay on top of that anxiety build-up.
2. Hold a weekly family review meeting
Good family communication is the key to raising resilient kids and having weekly scheduled group chats will encourage everyone to express their feelings of anxiety or uncertainty, in a more verbal way. It takes practice to do this, but over time you’ll find that the child that can effectively describe how they’re feeling, is less likely to throw an angry tantrum. Reassure everyone that it’s natural to feel out of sorts and anxious about the future – it would be strange not to feel worried about this right now.
A weekly meeting is also where you can discuss what’s working around the house and what needs to be changed. This will limit the day-to-day moaning about who’s hogging the bathroom or the family laptop. As well as learning how to raise concerns in a more controlled way, this will teach your teen how to think about solutions and become a problem-solver.
3. Make time to move
Never has it been more important to allocate one hour each day for walking out in the fresh air – even if it’s simply walking around the local streets. If it’s not scheduled into the timetable, it’s going to be very easy to skip doing it – especially if it’s raining. You can make it more interesting for teens by introducing walks in the dark to star-gaze or look for nocturnal animals. Or if it’s really not possible to get out, then introduce a 30 minute kitchen dance and get your teens to choose their favourite music. Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways of changing the brain chemistry and to feel less stressed.
4. Make a meal of a meal
With so few opportunities for going out at the moment, it’s going to be even more important to ‘make a meal of a meal’ to signal the end of the working day. Draw up a weekly menu in your family meetings and ensure everyone gets a turn to choose their favourite foods. When kids feel a part of the decision-making process, they’re more likely to be willing to take part in the preparation and cooking of it – and this has the added benefit of being a mindfulness activity. When your mind is fully engaged, you can’t be worrying about the future.
Have a ‘good news only’ rule for mealtimes. Any squabbles or arguments should be saved for the family meeting. Invite each person to share their highlights of the day – even if there were none to speak of, encouraging your mind to actively seek out the positive, keeps it healthy.
5. Have a laugh
Laughter is one of the quickest ways to change the brain chemistry and lower stress levels. Schedule a regular comedy movie night and ensure all news channels and other programmes are switched off for the evening. Your teen will benefit from the closeness of a regular family activity and you can use your weekly meetings to give them an opportunity to come up with a list of films they’d like to watch.
Alicia Eaton is a Children’s Wellbeing Practitioner based in Harley Street, London, and the author of ‘First Aid for your Child’s Mind’.